Hello friends! This time I will tell you about Uzbekistan, the country in Central Asia where there are some of the most beautiful cities of the Silk Road: Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva.

From Tajikistan I arrived in Uzbekistan in the mythical Samarkand, a magic name that perhaps most of all recalls the Silk Road. Dead and risen many times, already in 329 bC enchanted Alexander the Great who praised its incredible beauty. Destroyed almost completely by Genghis Khan in 1120, it rises again in full splendor a century and a half later under Timur as the capital of his empire. The last “resurrection” takes place under the Soviet Union with the restoration in great style (and perhaps a little arbitrary) of mosques and madrasas.

This is the center of Samarkand, called Registan. On the sides there are three medressas (Islamic schools). The one on the left is from the fifteenth century, the other two from the seventeenth century.


The splendid tile decorations of the central medressa, Tilla Kari.


Interior of the Sher-Dor madrasa. Most of the former student rooms, here as in the other medressas, are now souvenir shops.


One of the new tourist streets with the Bibi-Khanym mosque in the background.
A legend tells that it was built by a wife of Timur as a surprise for her husband during a military campaign. But the architect fell in love with her and asked for a kiss in return. When Timur came back was delighted with the gift but noticed the kiss mark on the architect’s cheek and understood. He then executed him and imposed the veil on the women of his empire to avoid to tempt men anymore.

There are many ancient tales, especially Persian, which recall Samarkand. At the end of my previous post I mentioned one. It is about the first adviser of the caliph (there are various versions, in some is a soldier with his own general, in others a servant with his own merchant and in others the city is not Samarkand but Samarra, in Iraq) who returns from the market terrified saying that there was there Lady Death, dressed in a black cloak, who came for him. He then asks the caliph for the fastest horse to escape from her with the intention of arriving in the evening up to Samarkand. After the first adviser run away the caliph goes personally to the market and once there finds the lady with the black cloak. He confronts her saying how she dared to scare his first advisor. And Lady Death answers “I didn’t want to scare him. I looked at him with curiosity because I didn’t understand how he could be here since we have an appointment this evening in Samarkand”.

In my case, instead, as you can see I managed at lest for now to escape Her, and even in this Dekaro proved to be a bit special.


Ladies at the market.


From Samarkand I came to another beautiful and ancient city: Bukhara (or Buxoro). In the IX and X centuries it became one of the greatest cultural centers of the known world, a “pillar of Islam” that rivaled Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba. At its peak it counted as many as 113 medressas, in which some of the greatest philosophers, poets, intellectuals and doctors of the Islamic world were formed.


Chess players.


The Ark, a fortified town within the city. Built in the 5th century, it became the residence of the emirs until 1920 when it was bombed and conquered by the Red Army.


Inside the ark the rooms have been converted in museums. This is a manuscript of the Koran of the nineteenth century.


The Kalon minaret by night. It was built in 1127 and was probably the tallest building in Central Asia at that time. Even Genghis Khan that we saw was certainly not a great lover of the artistic heritage (at least until the next usual historical review that maybe will turn everything upside down and will show us a refined and art-loving Genghis Khan) was so impressed that ordered to spare it while his troops destroyed the rest of the city.


The third of the ancient and extraordinary cities on the Silk Road is Khiva (or Xiva). The fortified city inside the walls, called Ichon-Qala, is perfectly preserved.
Khiva was also famous for having an infamous large slave market until the end of the nineteenth century. The slaves were captured mainly among the nomadic tribes of the steppes around and among Russian soldiers.


The Kalta Minor minaret, one of the symbols of the city. The reason it looks a bit chubby is due to the fact that it was designed to be much taller, perhaps the tallest in the world. Begun in 1852, the works were interrupted a few years later following the death of the khan.




The extraordinary ceiling of the mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmud, an unbeatable wrestler of the fourteenth century who was also a poet and philosopher and is considered the patron saint of the city. This is one of his poems:
It’s easy for me to smash 300 mountains “Kuhi Kof”
It’s easy for me to paint the sky with blood from my heart
It’s easy for me to be in prison 100 years
But it’s difficult for me to spend a moment with the stupid man!

In my case, however, all four are difficult.


The minaret of the Juma mosque.


The northern area of the city. On the left is the Islom Hoja madrasa and its minaret. Built in 1910, they are among the most recent monuments. The dome that on the right is the mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmud, with around many khan tombs in the shape of a small dome.
The photo was taken from above the minaret of the previous photo.


The Mohammed Rakhim Khan medressa.


One of the fortresses of Elliq-Qala, a chain of fortified cities in the desert, some over 2000 years old. In this case, as you can see, the base has been rebuilt.
Elliq-Qala means “fifty fortresses”. At the moment there are about twenty of them, so it is possible that there are others still hidden in the desert sand.
These ruins are located in Karakalpakstan which is an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan.


Wizard in the fortress.


Another fortress, in this case the ruins of Toprak Qala, the main complex of ancient Khorezm during the 3rd and 4th centuries. It was abandoned in the sixth century.

The white on the desert behind the ruins is salt. The wind carries it from the bed of the Aral Sea, a salt lake which is located a few hundred kilometers to the north and was the fourth largest lake in the world. An absurd decision of the Soviet Union to divert the rivers that flowed into its waters to irrigate the desert has led to almost total drainage in a few decades, causing an environmental and also economic catastrophe. Cities by the sea that lived on fishing are now in the middle of the desert and have been almost all abandoned.


And finally Tashkent, the capital. Even Tashkent is an ancient city on the Silk Road, but the little that survived previous destructions was definitively destroyed by an earthquake in 1966.
It is however a very pleasant city. There are many parks, wide and clean streets with beautiful modern buildings and those that were once futuristic Soviet buildings like this, the famous Hotel Uzbekistan.


Some of the old buildings are decorated.


Books for sale in a park.


One of the many examples of a poor Soviet building stormed by capitalism.


Many metro stations are richly decorated with thematic motifs. This is the Kosmonavtlar station, dedicated to cosmonauts and astronomers.


And together you with the cosmonaut I also greet you. See you in about three weeks for the last part of this journey.

Almaty (Kazakistan), Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

Hi dear readers! After the Indian subcontinent the journey continues in Central Asia, the region that includes five states of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (where, however, I will not go because it is too complicated have a visa).

These states, whose names are not familiar to us because they were created by the Soviet Union when they were already incorporated into it, were previously inhabited largely by nomadic or semi-nomadic populations that had no real borders.
At the collapse of the Soviet Union they became independent and since then their history is quite similar. Excluding Kyrgyzstan, they have all been led for decades by some already well-known leader of the local communist party, who has changed the name of the party and promoted a cult of personality that in the case of Turkmenistan has reached the ridiculous, with golden statues of the mother of Niyazov dictator scattered everywhere.
Almost everywhere, any political opposition has been silenced with fierce repression, torture and murder, and almost everywhere ethnic and religious conflicts have exploded (in Tajikistan shortly after independence there was even a civil war that caused over 60,000 dead, in Kyrgyzstan in 1990, already before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then in 2010 there were ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that caused at least a thousand deaths, especially among the Uzbeks).
Repression and violations of human rights have sometimes reached chilling levels, such as the Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan on May 13, 2005, when a largely peaceful demonstration was smothered in blood, leaving almost 1000 civilians dead.
This news usually does not have much space in the Western media because don’t match with the story of the states of the former Soviet Union finally free, happy, prosperous and democratic, and also because the United States had always preferred to turn a blind eye to these continuous violations of human rights in exchange for logistical and strategic support for the war in Afghanistan, plus the usual economic interests.

In contrast, however, the atmosphere is very quiet and the people very hospitable. The only real problem for travelers is that few people speak English and therefore to move around is a bit difficult. For vegetarians (like me) it is sometimes a bit complicated to order something to eat in the Cyrillic menus, especially since the local cuisine makes great use of meat.

I put the photos and I tell you in the meanwhile.

From Delhi I flew to Almaty in Kazakhstan. The flight had to last only 3 hours, but lasted more than 7 hours due to the blockage of the airspace with Pakistan for the usual skirmishes regarding the Kashmir. The plane had to make a very wide circle all around.
Kazakhstan is a very vast nation, famous especially for being the pseudo-homeland of Borat. In reality at least Almaty is very different from the descriptions of Borat. It is a modern and lively city. New buildings are replacing the Soviet ones and the main streets are full of bars and clubs. Although it is no longer the capital since 1997 it remains the main economic and cultural center. It is the only city I visited in Kazakhstan.


Inside an orthodox church, next to the Ascension Cathedral. The majority of the population in Kazakhstan is Muslim while about a quarter are Orthodox Christians because of the Russian community.


A war monument with the Ascension Orthodox cathedral in the background. During the Second World War much of the war production was moved to these regions, far from the front. Here were quickly and secretly built many of the tanks that will after carry out the counteroffensive that will free Europe from the Nazi domination.


From Almaty I arrived by land in Kyrgyzstan, which is located just to the south. The Kyrgyzstan is a largely mountainous country and when traveling you often encounter spectacular scenery, snowy mountain ranges, rivers and lakes.


A cemetery.


After visiting the capital, Bishkek, where there is not much to see, I did a three-day horseback tour to reach Lake Song Kul. Besides me there was an American man, the girl who organized the tour and the guide. On the first night we stopped in a farmers’ house.


Inside the house. Their economy is very essential. The cooking stove also serves to heat the house. Most of what they eat is produced directly by them.


The second day of the tour was very hard, especially for the cold. Actually I had read that in April it is still too cold for that tour but the girl who organized it had assured me. If at least she had told me the truth I would have been better prepared. Instead, I found myself at 3400 meters without even gloves and scarf. The most dramatic moment was when, as we passed on a ridge, the organizer’s horse stopped walking and sat on his legs and the guide decided it was too dangerous to continue riding in that point because we were next to the precipice. So we continued on foot and because it had snowed a lot in some places the snow reached my knees. I was wearing sneakers and jeans, which of course got soaked. That dorsal seemed never ending, I was really on the edge of strength, a little more and I would have saw a yeti. But even after I got back on the horse it was not easy because the snow sometimes reached its belly and therefore it had difficulty on walking, often slipped, jumped and it was a stressful situation.


Finally we arrived at the Lake Song-Kul, which is just over 3,000 meters and was still completely frozen. The weather was a little warmer and there was no longer that icy wind.


Home Sweet Home! The yurt, the typical house in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Here we slept the second night. Yurts are usually made up of a single tent. In this case the central tent served as a kitchen and living room and the other two as bedrooms.


The scenery around.


Another yurt.


The night before I had a sore throat and I had chills, I think because of the fever since the yurt was very hot inside. Since we had to go through the ridge again at 3400 meters I was worried about getting there in those conditions, especially if it would have been again very cold. But luckily the next day I was already well and it was a relatively warm day. This is part of the ridge of the day before, the snow was much lower.




A distinguished old man on horseback.


Men playing chess at the market of Osh, the second largest city in Krygistan. This market has been here for over 2000 years and was one of the major markets of the Silk Road, the network of commercial paths from China to Rome, with branches up to India, Arabia, East Africa and Southeast Asia, of which this region was the heart.


People at the market. I guess you have noticed the typical hat of this place.


People pray on the path that runs alongside the Sulaiman-Too, a mountain that overlooks the city and is considered sacred since unmemorable time. It is also according to many historians the “Stone Tower” which marked the central point of the Silk Road.
In this photo people was praying in front of a small low cave. Women went in and out the cave almost crawling because they believe brings good luck for the motherhood. At another point of the route, people was slipping on a smooth rock hoping for a good health.


Scattered in the caves of the Sulayman mountain are petroglyphs that date back to the Bronze Age. This is located just inside the Sulaiman-Too museum, created by digging a cave inside the rock.


Mother and daughter.


From Kyrgyzstan I went by land to Khujand in Tajikistan, the poorest and smallest of the five nations. It is a very mountainous country, on average above 3000 meters. The man in the picture is the current president since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But let’s not say that there is no democracy. It is difficult to do 200 meters in a street without finding a picture of him.


From Khujand I arrived to the capital Dushanbe, with a collective taxi (the vehicle I am using most often in these parts) through a mountain road as spectacular as dangerous.
This is the National Library. In the last 10 years many buildings have been built on the main street of the city and in the park around. Although sometimes a bit kitsch, they are in general beautiful and it is very pleasant and relaxing to walk around its center.
All the Central Asia countries are having an economic recovery in these years, after the collapse suffered in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are starting to exploit the various natural resources of which they are rich. In the case of Tajikistan it is mainly the water.


Women making bread.


Hisor, a town that was an important landmark on the Silk Road.


Dushanbe market colors.


At the market a Lady looked at me in a strange way. But I know who she is. She is the Death and she came for me. Now I take the fastest horse (mhm, not so sure about that) and run away from her to…
I don’t know if you have understood which story I am referring to, but I will talk about it in the next post. In the meantime I do some superstitious gestures because I don’t want to bring bad luck to myself.